Crowded Houston animal shelters are offering free adoptions

Many shelters are offering free or low-cost adoptions for the rest of July as part of the Bissell Pet Foundation’s “Empty the Shelters” campaign. 

One Houston shelter has over 400 dogs in a building that can comfortable hold 250, Harris County Pets, the animal control division of the county, posted on its Facebook page Friday.

“We cannot continue to house this many dogs,” the post reads. “It’s not only a staffing and resource issue, but a humane issue for the dogs.”

Montgomery County, Galveston County and other suburban animal service are also operating near maximum capacity. 

The Bissell Pet Foundation’s national campaign donates to shelters so that adoption fees are reduced to no more than $50 for a fully vaccinated, spayed or neutered and microchipped pet. 

Clam Chowder (A1784651) is a male, 1 1/2-year-old brown and white tabby cat available for adoption from BARC Animal Shelter on Tuesday, May 3, 2022 in Houston. Clam Chowder says “ Hiya! I’m Clam Chowder. I love, love, love wet food and I will reach through the kennel bars to touch you until maybe you give me some! I am probably one of the most playful cats you will ever meet. I haven’t come across a toy I don’t like! I love to run laps up and down my kennel with my friend, Latte.” He is one of 126 cats total held since September 15, 2021, on a cruelty hold pending the outcome of the court proceedings. On Wednesday, September 15, 2021, BARC and HPD’s Major Offenders Animal Cruelty Unit executed a warrant for the seizure of 132 animals from a two-bedroom house in northwest Houston. The site was investigated pursuant to an anonymous tip to the Cruelty Taskforce website. The tip was dispatched to BARC to investigate because the location is within our jurisdiction. BARC worked jointly with the Houston Humane Society to care for the animals. HHS agreed to house 88 of the cats that were seized, and BARC housed 38 cats and 6 dogs from the seizure. These pets were held on a cruelty hold pending the outcome of the court proceedings.Karen Warren/Staff photographer

Why shelters are full this summer

Shelters across the country have seen more owner surrenders as economic conditions worsen. Some families are struggling to pay for veterinary care and food. Others are moving to apartments that don’t accept pets or are facing eviction.  

Scott Jeansonne, director of veterinary public health at Harris County Public Health, said the increase in owner surrenders has made it difficult for the shelter to get stray dogs off the streets. 

“We have a lot of people call us up and say they’re bringing their dog because they’re moving to a place where they can’t have it or the dog has become inconvenient to their lifestyle,” Jeansonne said. 

A pair of dogs, that were part of 33 rescued dogs that were brought to the Houston Humane Society Tuesday, June 21, 2022 in Houston, after the animals were taken from a single location in San Jacinto County. The shelter, which is partnering with San Jacinto County Precinct 3, relocated the dogs to the shelter where they will be assessed by veterinary staff and rehabilitated as necessary before becoming eligible for adoption.
A pair of dogs, that were part of 33 rescued dogs that were brought to the Houston Humane Society Tuesday, June 21, 2022 in Houston, after the animals were taken from a single location in San Jacinto County. The shelter, which is partnering with San Jacinto County Precinct 3, relocated the dogs to the shelter where they will be assessed by veterinary staff and rehabilitated as necessary before becoming eligible for adoption.Brett Coomer/Staff photographer

If people need to re-home their dogs, Jeansonne said, the municipal animal shelter isn’t the best place to put them. These dogs take up kennel space and prevent animal services from picking up strays. Instead, he recommends contacting rescue organizations that specialize in placing dogs with vetted families. 

Texas does not require owners to spay or neuter their animals. Stray or unaltered animals have litters that contribute to overcrowding in the shelter. People may think they’re doing the right thing by taking a stray litter to a shelter, but Jeansonne said this is misguided. 

“If you see a litter of kittens or puppies, please leave them alone,” he said. “Even if you don’t see the mom, she’s most likely nearby and freaking out because you’re stealing her babies.”  

Volunteer Trish Mach hands out treats at the BARC Animal Shelter & Adoption center Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022 in Houston. The city updated its animal code Wednesday, which requires all dog and cat owners to microchip their animals and will prohibit pet stores from sourcing from puppy mill breeders.
Volunteer Trish Mach hands out treats at the BARC Animal Shelter & Adoption center Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022 in Houston. The city updated its animal code Wednesday, which requires all dog and cat owners to microchip their animals and will prohibit pet stores from sourcing from puppy mill breeders.Brett Coomer/Staff photographer

Newborn litters separated from their mother strain shelter resources. For example, puppies under four weeks need to be bottle fed every three or four hours. Staff barely finish one round of feeding before they have to start the process over.

The babies have a better chance of surviving if they stay with mom before being brought to the shelter, or if mom is brought to the shelter with them, Jeansonne said. 

How to help

  • Shelters need people to foster dogs for two to six weeks at a time. This allows staff to coordinate transportation for those dogs to other shelters, often in northern states where shelters have more room.
  • Spay or neuter your pets and don’t let them roam the neighborhood. Texas does not have a spay/neuter requirement, which has caused a stray problem. Letting pets wander increases the stray population and strains the shelter system.
  • Get your dog microchipped and registered with the county. As of this year, Houston requires all residents to get their pets microchipped. Owners can get their pets microchipped at their veterinarian or at BARC for $15. All dogs and cats over three months old are required by law to have a current rabies vaccination and a pet license in Harris County.
  • Adopt, don’t shop. Shelters are running adoption specials through the end of July.

Here are the local facilities participating in the Empty the Shelters campaign: 

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